England finally end up on top in epic duel after Matthew Wade and Jofra Archer barbs round off Ashes series
There was something telling about Tim Paine sitting down to say, late on Saturday night, that his terrible record with the decision review system might require him to ‘enrol in umpire school and see if I might then get a few right’.
His self-effacement was edifying, yet you would struggle to name many Australian captains in recent years who would have found the remotest time for levity after a day being ground into the south London dust.
The champagne had not even been uncorked on the win at Old Trafford which saw Australia retain the Ashes when Paine was out on the Manchester pitch, telling any interviewer who cared to ask that his team were here to win the series, not just retain the urn.
England bowler Jofra Archer stares at adversary Matthew Wade during a tense battle
It hasn’t looked that way since the moment that he inexplicably put England in to bat. Shane Warne observed at 10.30am on Thursday that this decision was wrong and would bring defeat on his nation. Right on both counts.
What ensued on Sunday night was the odd, and rather awkward, scene of the Australians breaking open more champagne and massing around their enclave of supporters to celebrate a defeat and drawn series, after Joe Root and Paine had each taken a handle of a meaningless trophy. The Australian smiles could not disguise the anti-climax. ‘No doubt it’s a bit of a dampener,’ admitted Paine.
Some very decent Australian sides have demonstrated down the years that it is not easy winning the last, dead-rubber Test when you have retained it, though the truly great ones have wanted nothing less than to grind England down. Steve Waugh, who never gave an inch, once said that there was room for pity in sport — but not much.
Australia lacked guile at The Oval from the second Tim Paine won the toss and decided to bowl
It is 18 years since he won the toss on this ground at the conclusion of what remains his nation’s last Ashes series victory on English soil. Australia batted and batted and Waugh was 157 not out when they declared at 641 for four. The innings victory was followed by an attempted burning of the bails from the just-completed Test in the Aussie dressing room.
Ponting always remembered one of Waugh’s mantras on these shores — that September complacency at the Oval would never be tolerated. ‘He always cited the case of the last Test at the Oval in 1997, which came after we’d won three Tests straight to retain the Ashes,’ Ponting said.
That was the year when England, 3-1 down in the series, blitzed Australia for 104 in 32.1 overs to win by 19 runs.
It was four years later that the home nation, 3-0 down, burgled a dead fourth Test at Headingley, inspired by Mark Butcher.
Hundreds by Justin Langer and both Waughs, Steve and Mark, followed at the Oval. It always helps Australia to have a perceived injustice to avenge.
England have won intermittently at the SCG when Ashes series have gone. A Butcher century and Andy Caddick’s seven second-innings wickets in his last Test brought a consolation win in 2003. But for the great Aussie sides, it has been ritual strangulation.
Ricky Ponting's side showed no mercy in Australia's 2006-07 whitewash victory
The 5-0 evisceration by a Ricky Ponting team intent on avenging the 2005 defeat ended with a 10-wicket win at the SCG in 2007. Shane Warne, Justin Langer and Glen McGrath were all bowing out after that Test and some of the team wept with joy afterwards, such was their desire to win. Adam Gilchrist wore sunglasses for the interviews, just to hide the fact.
Though the best team have retained these Ashes, this Australian side is, Steve Smith aside, a pale imitation of the Waugh and Ponting teams: short of comparative batting ability and bereft of the old visceral Aussie spirit.
It was one of the reasons why a little of you wanted David Warner to break his Stuart Broad hex at 11.30am on day four. Warner slashed and burned again, of course, his bat so far in front of his body in 30 minutes in the middle that his departure had a ring of inevitability.
Matthew Wade led the resistance and, in his battle with Jofra Archer, had provided another of this series’ many mesmerising confrontations. This is no more an individual you would want to take afternoon tea with than Warner. ‘Go on Leachy, let’s have the s*** stirrer here,’ Jonny Bairstow declared as Wade walked in. Yet Wade’s innings began with an immediate attack on Jack Leach and evolved into an epic duel with Archer, in which the Tasmanian did not cede an inch.
Few England players were willing to congratulate Wade on his Ashes Test century
If Archer thought Wade would blink after hammering him on his upper arm at more than 90mph and jogging down the track, arms behind back, he was wrong. Wade stared the bowler down. His survival of that eight-over examination by Archer will resonate down the years, intensified by the empathy. It spoke volumes that there was neither eye contact nor acknowledgement from England’s players when Wade reached 100.
Australia’s fragile destiny became hopeless when he trudged away through the long Oval shadows.
History tells us that Australia emerged from the doldrums to enjoy generations of success after dead-rubber victories in 1972 and 1986-7. The sight of Rod Marsh and Paul Sheahan gleefully swinging their bats as they ran off at the Oval after the last of only six squared series in 1972 revealed that Ian Chappell’s team knew they were on their way.
This side looks far from that state of being. There will be mixed feelings as they clamber up the stairs of the Qantas carrier which bears them home.